The Valley Gardens area of Saltburn by the Sea is a steep sided valley carved out during the ice-age. The woodland at the head of the valley has remained virtually undisturbed for any years, dating back as far as the time of the great forests.
Much of the valley is quite humid within the steep sided areas before it opens up into a wider plane as it reaches the sea and is subject to sea breezes coming off the North sea. A dense canopy of Oak and Ash trees shelter the winding paths which run the entire length of the valley and Saltburn Gill runs through the centre of it and is fed by two tributaries, The Griff and Darn Bottle.
In 1861 the Saltburn Improvement Company (SIC) started ‘Phase 1’ foundation works on the pleasure gardens. By 1862 and ‘Phase 2’ of the project the SIC had selected the design of the prominent London based landscaper Joseph Newton at a cost of £300. In 1867 Newton’s services were dispensed with and a new head gardener, Mr Everatt was appointed who continued to develop the gardens on the model laid out by Newton.
Developments within the valley included a Croquet Lawn – at that time croquet was a newly fashionable pursuit and the Valley Gardens lawn is possibly home to one of the first purpose built landscaped croquet lawns in England. It is now used as a picnic area near the tea rooms. The Italian Gardens offering ornate flower displays were designed during ‘Phase 2’ and are based on Newton’s proposal in 1865.
There are three bridges that span the beck. The bridge closest to the seafront is made from the parts recovered from the Ha’Penny bridge that spanned the valley before it was demolished. The ‘Halfpenny’ bridge was a typical example of Victorian enterprise and was completed in 1869 at a cost of £7000 and the lives of three workmen. It’s span, on top of seven cast iron supports towering 120 feet above the valley floor, offered spectacular views of the coast and surrounding countryside. The bridge, when it opened, became known as the Halfpenny Bridge and was derived from the fact that pedestrians paid a halfpenny toll to cross. The toll was taken at a toll-booth at one end of the bridge. The toll-house, which was built for the use of the toll-collector at one end of the bridge, still survives today as a private dwelling. The current bandstand marks where the other end of the bridge reached.
Perched on the side of the valley among the trees is the rather out of place looking Albert Memorial. Originally used as the portico at Barnard Castle Railway Station in 1865 it was acquired when the station closed in 1862 by Henry Pease, a director of the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company and who was working on the first plans for the Valley gardens. He arranged for it to be moved to its current location and dedicated to the memory of the recently deceased Prince Consort, Albert, whom Pease highly regarded. It was granted a Grade II listing in 1972.
Another Grade II listing in the Valley Gardens is the railway viaduct. At 150ft high and spanning 783 feet with eleven arched spans it opened in 1872 to extend the line of the Whitby, Redcar and Middlesbrough Union Railway from the prosperous ironstone mines further south. Today it is used primarily for the rolling stock carrying potash from Boulby Mine to the port on Teesside.
In the shadow of the viaduct and near the stepping stones are the bramble covered remains of the old Mill. Thought to have existed since 1649 and it was used for milling until the 1920s. The site continued as a farm but was eventually demolished in 1971.
The Valley hosts a wealth of flora and fauna. With Oak, Ash, and Hazel lining the steep sides of the valley. Yellow flowers of Lesser Celandine cover the floor and are followed by carpets of strong smelling Wild Garlic and Bluebells. Other plants and flowers include Dog’s Mercury, Daffodil, Woodruff, Moschatel along with many different fungi and ferns. Birdlife includes Robin, Blackbird, Wren, Chiffchaff, Spotted Flycatcher, Woodpecker, Kestrel and Kingfisher to name a few.
Throughout the year the Valley Gardens remains a hugely popular location with residents and visitors alike, much as it was in Victorian times and especially through the Spring and Summer with people coming to enjoy what the valley has to offer. But take the time to walk a little further and follow the path less trodden and explore all that they offer and you can quickly lose yourself in both the past and the present in this amazing place.
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